POPULAR SPOT: Ballina's saltwater baths, c.1940s
POPULAR SPOT: Ballina's saltwater baths, c.1940s

When Christmas meant beach time

IN THE 1940s and 1950s Christmas time on the North Coast usually meant holidays.

Most of the factories and workshops around the country took annual leave so that families could get together during the long school holidays.

Many people from the city also invaded the area, seeking the "good life" of sunshine, swimming, surfing, and fishing.

Travel was mainly by train or perhaps bus as the family motor car had not taken over. Our own Australian Holden had been launched in 1948 but cars were still a rarity for the ordinary family, and caravans scarcely existed.

Accommodation in seaside towns was in short supply though there were usually a few boarding-houses and flats available. However, most families preferred camping - and this meant in a rather primitive tent.

Lismore was the largest centre on the Richmond and most people taking holidays from there at Christmas went usually to Ballina or Evans Head, while some preferred Brunswick Heads.

Ballina had always been a very popular fishing spot, especially for the large sandbank known as The Spit as well as for the long Breakwater.

Boats could also be hired for going further out on the River, though this needed some caution as the water could be unpredictable at times, especially in places such as the entrance to Emigrant Creek when the tide was turning.

But there were several wharves which could be used, and of course there was the North Creek with the old Missingham Bridge a popular spot.

One place usually known only to the locals (or the regular visitors to Ballina!) was the popular saltwater baths across from the Pilot Station. Here a line could be thrown out in deep water without endangering the swimmers because of the netting around the walkway.

Sometimes "dad" fished while mum and the kids had a swim. Of course, only one or two fishermen were allowed in at once because, after all, the baths were meant mainly for swimming and the old chap who acted as caretaker could be very particular at times!

The main camping ground was just over from the baths on the sand dunes.

At peak periods this would be a mass of tents, all shapes and sizes. Often families came in groups year after year and the children had a great time renewing friendships and exploring remembered haunts.

East Ballina also had a camping ground and of course there was the swimming hole at Shaws Bay there. Later East Ballina took over as the most popular area for camping, especially when the caravan era began. Caravans on the Ballina sand dunes, even cars, were not really ideal!

The Surf Club offered protection on the Lighthouse Beach for surfing enthusiasts too, and the later surf carnivals and concerts became very popular. Riv's Inn was a popular spot for those wanting some night life.

Of course, in the earlier days, there had also been entertainment at Ballina.

There was the Plaza Theatre showing great films and sometimes concerts would be held in one of the public halls, possibly the Masonic Hall or the R.S.L. Hall.

However, there were also visiting shows, from the circus to musicals. These toured the various centres annually and were extremely popular.

A large tent (The Big Top) was hoisted on a vacant lot in River St and many watched as everything was set in motion. It was very exciting to watch. Some of the locals were often employed to help with the "setting up" and the "taking down" afterwards.

Tiered wooden seats provided the audience with a reasonably comfortable position in which to watch the show.

The artists and performers were all professionals and shows were always first class. A refreshment tent was normally available and sometimes souvenirs.

The weather was usually good for all these activities but occasionally a cyclone or bad storm caused a wipe out! Tents on the sand dunes were demolished and people had to seek shelter.

The nearby police station and pilot station helped and emergency accommodation was found in halls or with local residents. No one minded taking in a few "refugees" on such an occasion!

These days of course few people would think of pitching a tent on the sand dunes - even if a sand dune was there!

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